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The Fur-Lined Crypt
By Richard Jensen
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2010 Richard Jensen
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAt last the tight knot in the pit of his bowels began to unravel. His breath came easier as he gulped the mild breeze that floated in from the open sea. Here in the Thames Estuary, beyond the reach of the law, Timothy felt safe for the first time in almost a fortnight.
It was May 21, 1750 and there was reason to relax. Sadly, that couldn't begin to mask the desperate feelings of defeat and terrible loneliness that had overtaken his normally cheerful demeanor. Now heart sick and nearly blinded by tears, Timothy could barely make out England, which was silently slipping from view over the rear gunwale of Prince Rupert I, one of several company supply ships. It wasn't likely to be a happy crossing, but barring a shipwreck or some other catastrophic event, the stormy North Atlantic would be his home for at least eleven weeks. Gravesend's disappearance from the quarterdeck spelled the end of his past life. A new one was beginning.
Directly ahead, Timothy could see a small vessel tacking into the brackish gray water of the estuary. For a fleeting moment he seriously considered jumping ship in the vain hope that he could swim back to the city, thereby reversing all of his recent decisions. The consequence of such an endeavor was, of course, much too horrible to contemplate, and the desperate scheme was quickly dismissed. Like it or not, having recently signed on for a five-year stint with the Hudson's Bay Company, he was in fact on his way to Rupert's Land, the northern reaches of the New World. As a fugitive from the law, there was little doubt that the assignment could last even longer. But having used an alias, it seemed unwise to argue or raise the matter for discussion with the monocled and somewhat prissy registration clerk at the Hudson's Bay Company office on Fenchurch Street. That part of the agreement was never really debated since it appeared that all candidates seeking work in North America's frozen tundra were obliged to accept a similar five-year sentence. It mattered little since Timothy hadn't contemplated that he would find himself in this particular situation. Initially there had been some optimism regarding a kinder, less primitive exit from England. That didn't happen and here he was. To a large extent the Hudson's Bay Company was selected simply because of its proximity to Timothy's bank.
Just eleven hectic, fear-filled days had lapsed since the nightmare began with the discovery of the ghoulish chaos at Weir and Thompson, Chartered Accountants. Having joined the firm at the age of twelve and now, being a junior apprentice, Timothy had enjoyed a dozen years of continuous employment and there was good reason to believe that his contribution was of growing importance to the partnership. Indeed, it was even possible to fantasize seeing the name "Timothy Morton" alongside the other gilded names that appeared in the front office window. There was after all a history of excellent progress. His loyalty and continuing development had led to the assignment of several small clients for which he had sole responsibility. He had cherished these arrangements, especially the relationship with Marsden Hats, one of Oxford's leading haberdasheries. In fact, with a recent raise of four pounds per year, his courage had been bolstered to the point of asking Mr. Marsden for his daughter Fay's hand in marriage.
Loving her as he did, it was particularly painful to know that she would never learn of his innocence. With the risk of being captured by the police, it had been much too dangerous to call on his fiancée, and there was every reason to believe that she, like many others, believed that he was a murderer. Knowing this and despite the tremendous temptation, leaving Fay without comment was probably the kindest thing that Timothy could have done for the one person in the world that he truly loved.
Yes, it was true. Timothy Morton was the only suspect in the murder of Mr. Lawrence Weir, the senior partner of Weir and Thompson, Chartered Accountants. And is it any wonder that he was under suspicion? Less than two weeks had passed since Timothy had reported for work early, just as he always did. He was planning to finish a small but troublesome inventory audit and was feeling particularly pleased with himself. Having one of only three keys to the establishment, and with both partners scheduled to be in Windsor, he was anticipating a pleasant and relatively quiet day at the office.
Approaching the Farringdon Street facade, Timothy experienced a mild twinge of concern as he noted that the front door was ajar—it was clear that something was amiss. Timothy could hardly believe that anyone would be interested in burglarizing a sterile accounting office. He also wondered if this was a result of his careless handling of the lock the night before. While he may have been preoccupied with wedding plans and the happy thoughts of a visit with Fay, leaving the door unlocked would have been unthinkable. Reflecting back to the previous night, he clearly remembered securing the door, and hearing the large bolt closing on the heavy oak frame that surrounded the front entrance.
Entering the office foyer, his worst fears were to be realized. There they were, six blue-coated bobbies conversing in Mr. Weir's open-door office. But wait! Things were even more sinister. Lying in a pool of blood was Mr. Weir with a cricket bat protruding from his bludgeoned skull. It was a gruesome scene with Mr. Weir's grotesque, blood-smeared face showing both surprise and horror as his still-open eyes stared into eternity.
For Timothy, the shock intensified when he noticed that his name was clearly inscribed on the butt end of the bloody, leather wrapped handle. The weapon was a souvenir representing London's newest sport. It had been given to him by Mr. Sommers, a recent arrival from India, a client, and founding member of the new Hambledon-Marylebone Cricket Club.
Hearing the intrusion of Timothy's arrival, the closest and most portly of the bobbies spun around. "Who might you be?" he asked. "And what is your business here?"
Thinking quickly and having in mind the name on the bat, Timothy blurted out, "I am here to meet with Timothy Morton and expect to pick up some documents."
"Not likely," replied the policeman. "He has just murdered his boss and we hardly expect that he will be in today. By the way, what did you say your name was?"
With hardly a chance to think, Timothy responded, "Stanley Jones." He had just seen that name on a chalkboard, advertising a new play at the Drury Lane Theater.
"Get out of here," scolded the cop. "We have a lot of things to clear up, but should you happen to see Morton, don't tell him that we are on to him."
Once outside and back on the street the realization of what had just happened hit Timothy like an avalanche. In the absence of other evidence, the police were quick to put the blame on him. Without a meaningful alibi it was a frightening situation. Bending over to retie a loose lace on his leather breeches, Timothy could feel the sobs welling up in his throat. With them came the whispered summary of the situation.
"I am a fugitive, and while innocent, the law is looking for me. I dare not even return to my flat. In fact, I need to stay well clear of the Bermondsey district since I am sure to be recognized."
Moving north well into the Finsbury district, some dozen meandering blocks from the office and the scene of the murder, Timothy found himself in an unfamiliar Bull and Finch Pub. Here in the subdued light, he was temporarily safe and there was time to think. While still a bit early for a drink, a pint of ale was ordered from the stooped pub master who was otherwise busy cleaning up from the previous night's activities.
Standing by the rail and staring over the polished marble bar, it was possible to rationalize that the whole situation was really nothing more than a bad dream. Unfortunately, such was not the case. Nothing could wish away the sight of his mentor's beaten head and the shock evoked by seeing his very own blood-smeared cricket bat. There was no obvious defense and seeking support from the stoic Mr. Thompson would in all likelihood prove hopeless. Besides, the deceit of a make-believe name would be seen by many as an admission of guilt.
That it was necessary to leave London was a certainty, and to avoid the continuous risk of being recognized and captured, leaving England outright seemed to be the only viable option. Any other alternative would most likely lead to the stench of a dirty basement dungeon in Old Bailey's Newgate Prison. With no supportable alibi combined with a pitiful defense, it was almost certain that the story would play out with a short, one-way trip to the Tower's executioner.
With almost surprising resolve, Timothy forced himself to make some previously unthinkable decisions. Buying passage and moving to some safe haven would of course require money. This simple revelation suddenly made it a pressing priority to close out his Threadneedle banking arrangements. Without so much as a sip from the tankard, Timothy bolted from the pub and headed for the bank, nearly a mile away.
Being thrifty, and with the help of a modest inheritance from his deceased parents, some seventeen pounds had been squirreled away in the Bank of England. While normally this prestigious depository would not accept or handle such a paltry amount, it was also the bank of account for the Weir and Thompson partnership. With a strong recommendation from Mr. Weir, Timothy had been granted the privilege of a personal account. Undoubtedly, the police would soon learn of this intertwined relationship and retrieval of the funds would involve great risk. Waiting was sure to make things worse as there was little doubt that the banking officers would soon learn of Mr. Weir's murder and Timothy's assumed role in the affair.
Arriving at the bank, Timothy found that it was still closed. However, he felt some relief noting that no policemen were nearby. While the wait was alarmingly awkward, the delay provided a few more precious moments to think and gain some semblance of composure. It felt like an eternity, but the big bronze doors finally opened at ten o'clock, and he was among the first to queue up to one of the large brass wire cages.
As expected, a request to cash out and close the account brought one of the senior managers out from behind the large oak counter that separated the small public area from at least a dozen young men who were quietly working at a long counter. Since Timothy was known to several of these underlings, he was pleased to see that the entire crew was preoccupied with a clutter of journals and assorted pieces of paper.
In closing and cashing out the account, some resistance had been anticipated, but the fatherly rebuke and consultation that ensued was totally unexpected. Every minute was a trauma that added to the tension, but it was clear that the senior banker was taking the loss of the account as a personal affront, and was well prepared to lecture at length on the matter. It was a lie, but to stop the diatribe and unwelcome sermon on money management, Timothy allowed that he was very happy with the banking services but needed the money to invest in a family trading firm working out of Calcutta. He went on to say that he was immigrating to India within a week. That did the trick. Without another word, the well-meaning antagonist spun around and instructed the teller to release the money.
Later, when there was time to reflect on the situation, Timothy was sorry that his hurried and careless response had revealed an interest in moving to India. Relocation plans were far from being settled, but without really thinking it over, he had at least contemplated such a move. However, his response to the banker was sure to reach the ears of the authorities, and this would give rise to some form of surveillance on all ships bound for the subcontinent. An exit to a new and safe life in India was now closed.
Emerging onto the street and into a forenoon drizzle, the weight of seventeen sovereigns in his pocket gave Timothy a new sense of power and control. The money would be directed to the business of finding a new life totally removed from London. Being recognized here would inevitably lead to arrest, incarceration, and a gruesome execution. It was indeed a grim thought, triggering uncontrollable shivers accompanied by a chilling, cold sweat.
In earlier times Scotland may have provided sanctuary, but now with the relatively recent union, all of the British Isles would have to be excluded in his quest for a new life. India was out of question, but Timothy felt certain that the British colonies in America would be open, and that a move to Boston or New York could be arranged. Meanwhile, Fenchurch Street at the upper end of Culver Court, the home office of the Hudson's Bay Company, was nearby. It was well known that this firm was always seeking recruits for its lucrative North American fur trade. Timothy had garnered a slight knowledge of this thriving industry since it provided the raw material for the very popular beaver hats, the most profitable sector of Mr. Marsden's hat business. It wasn't particularly appealing, but the Hudson's Bay Company could, as a very last resort, offer a solution to Timothy's pressing needs. It was about the time of the year that their supply ships were due to leave for the Bay area. If something better came along, he would simply miss the ship and his ride to the Arctic wilderness.
The walk back to Culver Court took only a few minutes, but it was long enough for Timothy to craft an alias—Daniel Adams. Once at the office he made all necessary arrangements to leave for the northern outreaches of Rupert's Land and Hudson Bay.
The paperwork was still in process when two gentlemen approached and introduced themselves. "Hello there young fellow, I am delighted that you have chosen a career with the company. I am also happy to note that the navy hasn't conscripted all of the tall, broad-shouldered men. My name is James Isham and this is another novice recruit, Humphrey Marten. We will be joining you at York Factory."
Mindful of his alias but still unaccustomed to its use, Timothy replied carefully. "Hello. My name is Daniel Adams. Yes, the man here at the desk has assigned me to that location. It sounds like a challenging job, but I am sure it will be packed with adventure and I look forward to that."
"Don't be too taken with the adventure idea. For most everyone its just plain hard work spiced with some interesting but often unforgiving hardship. I've already spent eighteen years on the Bay, so you can trust me on that."
Daniel hardly knew how to respond since the gentleman claiming all the experience did not look the part. He was of modest height and build, but except for his carefully groomed Vandyke, he had no particularly notable features. Without a doubt, his meticulously trimmed beard was Isham's most recognizable physical attribute. The salt and pepper character of his dark hair hinted of a man in his mid-thirties. At the moment, however, it was his dress that set him apart. It hardly fit with Daniel's idea of a man who had spent eighteen years trading for furs with a pack of savages from the remote hinterland of the New World. The clothes that Isham wore would have been appropriate for a visit with King George II. To say the least, the black waistcoat and britches, along with the requisite frilly blouse, white hose, and low cut buckled shoes were out of place for Hudson Bay and the rough ocean voyage ahead.
Humphrey Marten, the other new recruit, seemed an equally unlikely prospect. While clean shaven, his sallow pimple-ridden face and slight, fragile frame did not support the image of a robust warrior seeking adventure in the New World. To his credit, he was dressed in the rough garb of a London dockworker.
Daniel was not committed to a career with the company but remained polite to his newly found acquaintances. When asked, Daniel volunteered that he was comfortably ensconced at his parent's home across the river in nearby Bermondsey. Apparently this answer was satisfactory as Isham and Marten excused themselves with the commonplace, "We'll be seeing you."
Excerpted from The Fur-Lined Crypt by Richard Jensen Copyright © 2010 by Richard Jensen. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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